June 06, 2020

Green cemetery on hold until question resolved

ORRINGTON – The Planning Board decided on Thursday there is one question concerning a proposal to create a “green” cemetery in town that needs to be answered by an attorney before the panel can vote on the site plan.

The question about what entity will take ownership of the Rainbow’s End Cemetery – where bodies will be embalmed with nontoxic fluids and caskets will be biodegradable – if the corporation that operates it is dissolved is being sent to the town attorney.

The site plan will be placed on the August meeting agenda for a final decision, Chairman Louis Morin said at Thursday night’s meeting.

“I expect it will [get] a green light to go ahead,” he told the project petitioners.

The proposed Rainbow’s End Cemetery sits on 13.7 pristine acres along the Penobscot River off Mill Creek Road and could become the first green cemetery in the state and possibly New England.

A green cemetery requires that bodies not be embalmed or be embalmed with nontoxic fluid or cremated, caskets be biodegradable, and graves be marked only by simple, flat native stones with or without engravings. Native vegetation also could be used to replace conventional gravestones.

The idea is to let the natural landscape remain undisturbed, while providing a sanctuary for the living who come to visit.

Property owners Ellen and James Hills of Solon sat in the front row with Joan Howard, an abutting landowner to the property, and Ernie Marriner, secretary of the Auburn-based Funeral Consumers Alliance of Maine.

The Planning Board did vote to approve interment of cremated bodies in the property’s shoreland zoning area and limited body placements to areas that are at least 100 feet from the Penobscot River. Parking and setbacks also were discussed, but no decisions were made during Thursday’s meeting.

Funeral Consumers Alliance is providing the group with a $10,000 no-interest loan to maintain the property until interment fees can be used, and about 4 acres of the property will be reserved for the Hills’ three children. Once they are deceased, the family parcel will become part of the cemetery.

The natural-burial movement is still in its infancy in the United States but has been booming in Great Britain, which has about 200 green cemeteries. The first U.S. green cemetery opened in South Carolina in 1996.

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